Showcasing local creativity: Students, designers and parents look to wow with Project Funway designs
EFEC’s Project Funway will be back in person at Dobson Arena Saturday night
Each year, the Education Foundation of Eagle County calls upon local artists, students, teachers and residents to craft one-of-a-kind runway designs — all to raise awareness and funds to support educators and students in the county.
After hosting a virtual event last year, Project Funway will be back in person at Dobson Arena this Saturday, March 5, at 6 p.m.
“While it was fun to do a new format, we are excited to be back live with all the energy and creativity flowing,” said Wendy Rimel, president of the Education Foundation of Eagle County’s Board of Directors. “Coming together with our community to celebrate our amazing teachers and students, and to support our schools, will be amazing this year.”
While successful in concept, the virtual event didn’t amass nearly as much donations as previous year’s events. Compared to the over $220,000 it raised in 2020, the 2021 Project Funway generated around $90,000. As the foundation’s biggest fundraising event each year, it really hurt the organization, Rimel said.
In its 11th year, the organization hopes to raise $450,000. All funds raised go to support the foundation’s efforts around supporting local schools through in-school enrichment programs, mental health supports and efforts to recognize teachers.
While the event has grown and evolved over the years, one thing has remained consistent: those who participate are to design and model a runway outfit made of anything but clothes.
“We do not give any prompts to the designers, we want to let their creativity flow,” Rimel said.
In the beginning, the event featured mainly parents who were involved with the organization and their kids. Over the years, it has grown to include students, art teachers, local designers, and this year, even a full high school class. Plus, 11 years in, many designers return year after year to stretch their creativity and imagination.
“Project Funway is a salute to our valley’s depth of creativity,” said Doe Browning, who first became involved in 2015 and has been involved as a contestant, judge and audience member for many years since.
“I’m mesmerized by this event and the involvement of youth and their teachers and parents,” Browning said. “I can think of nothing else that offers so many layers for boundless creativity.”
When starting the process of creating a design, Browning said she starts with finding “materials gathering dust that could somehow apply,” and that she or other participants have never, or might never consider, to use in her design.
“Clothing design is a three-dimensional endeavor that is dynamic as it adorns an animated being. The challenges are endless with materials, colors, shapes and engineering,” Downing said, adding that “being challenged in this way is delightful.”
Viviana Marquez has participated in Project Funway for five years. This challenge is also her favorite part.
“I like creating something out of the ordinary and seeing the outcome,” Marquez said. “I enjoy the adrenaline of creating and designing with materials that aren’t fabric. But the most important part is supporting our amazing teachers and school district.”
While Browning looks forward to competing in the event, she is also dedicated to ensuring that students have the opportunity to participate. This year, she is underwriting a number of student designers and models.
“As much as I love our outdoor athletic opportunities, creativity is equally important and should be available to all,” she said. “Creativity inspires thinking outside-the-box and you can’t have enough of those kinds of thinkers.”
For one local student, Lisa Overy, who is a sophomore at Battle Mountain High School, participating in Project Funway is a fun way to express herself while making a dress, stretching her creativity and raising money for her school district, she said.
Overy — whose father Charles Overy serves on the foundation’s board — has made a design for the last five years of the event.
“My favorite part about this design event is being able to use old materials in new ways, ways they aren’t traditionally designed to be used,” Overy said. “I also love showing up and seeing all of the different ideas and creations that other people have made.”
She describes her design process as equal parts chaotic and fun.
“I generally start with a material and then figure out how to use it and finally determine the shape of the dress. I love starting with a material rather than an idea because it gives me full creative freedom and I think it allows the material to be used in a more intricate way,” Overy said.
Monika and Chloe Hornbostel, a mother-daughter duo, love the challenge of working with unique materials on their designs and always strive to have audience members guessing at the original material — something they think they’ve achieved in this year’s design.
“This is the challenge and the delight of Project Funway,” said Monika Hornbostel. “The dress is gorgeous (of course), and it might be hard to figure out what it was originally made of.”
After competing in Project Funway every year since 2013, this is the Hornbostels last year collaborating and competing as Chloe is graduating high school this year. As a homage to their many years participating in the event, Monika said that they are using the same material from Chloe’s first two dresses.
Monika is no stranger to the world of fashion — she designed swimwear for her own Anika Brazil line — and said that this event is her favorite of the year.
“The dresses are amazing, the production is fabulous. They convert Dobson to look like LA or NYC, you will not believe it unless you go,” Monika said.
However, not all designers are multi-year Project Funway veterans. This year, the first-period sculpture class from Battle Mountain is entering two designs. And while it’s the group’s first time participating in Project Funway — with the exception of one student — it’s also many of the students’ entree into doing anything with fashion or clothing design.
Even the class’s teacher, Aubrey Di Donato, didn’t have much experience in “wearable art,” as she referred to it.
“It was a little intimidating for me to take it on by myself or if the students weren’t interested,” Di Donato said, adding that because it is an upper level art class, she allows the students to select units and projects they’re passionate about or interested in pursuing.
“They agreed to take some time out of the semester to work on it and it fits in right with our unit because it’s sculptural and usable,” she said.
Like many of the other Project Funway designers, the Battle Mountain class started the process by identifying its materials — and they didn’t have to look far.
“I teach dark room photography as well and it’s a class that uses a lot of materials, but a lot of the materials are not up to par or students aren’t going to frame them or film canisters (I keep them like a hoarder, but we never use them),” Di Donato said.
Leveraging all things photography — from film canisters to film to printed photographs — the class is crafting two designs for Saturday’s event. However, while the group was sold on repurposing the photography materials laying around for their designs, figuring out how to make them into something wearable was a different story.
“It’s a lot of trial and error and problem solving,” said Stella Campanale, who is crafting one of the outfit’s skirts with her classmate Cassidy Kurt.
For the duo, finding “visual success,” has been their biggest challenge, Campanale said. Throughout the process, they’ve been creative in their design.
According to Kurt, “keeping an open mind,” of how all the components come together has been critical.
Working on the top half of this outfit, Dessa Blevins and Lindsey Keihl have had to leverage and fight their perfectionist tendencies to create a unique corset-style top.
“We’ve learned to let that go and rely on trial and error,” Keihl said. “We’re experimenting a lot. It looks interesting right now, but we’re getting there.”
Compared to other projects the class has undertaken in this first period, Duncan Scherr said this was “less structural and more creative. Scherr has been involved in five Project Funway events as a model, he said. This year, however, is the most involved he’s ever been in the design process. Scherr’s main role in the process has been figuring out how to sew all the film together into something wearable.
Di Donato’s sculpture class took on the project during class hours, but many students also dedicated time after hours and on break to make it to this Saturday’s event. While the group pushes toward the finish line with its two designs, student Amy Bustillos said this final week has been her favorite part.
“We were really stressed at the beginning because we thought we wouldn’t finish in time, so it’s cool seeing it really come together,” Bustillos said.
While the creation process is a lot of the fun, Saturday’s Project Funway will be the opportunity for designers to showcase their hard work and dedication.
Starting at 6 p.m., the event will feature food, drinks, a silent auction and of course the fashion show, which is judged by a panel which includes celebrity judge Mondo Guerra, of “Project Runway” fame.
“It has been incredible to see the community come together in support of the event,” Rimel said. “EFEC works hard to support our amazing teachers, all our dedicated educators, our students and families and our schools.”
What: Project Funway
Where: Dobson Arena (321 E. Lionshead Circle, Vail)
When: Saturday, March 5
Tickets: Online at ProjectFunway.org or at the door the night of the event.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.